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On world hunger, two year olds and rice crispie cakes…

As I stirred from a bizarre dream this morning, reluctant to wake, especially with all of us snuggled so cosily under the duvet, I groaned; “Monday already? Mummy has to go to work…” Ramona replied, “No, Mummy, no work.” I realised with a jolt that I was bringing up a work-shy communist.* Just kidding, but I did have an insta-worry that I am in danger of devaluing my work, seeing it as something I just do to bring home the (soy-based) bacon, and not because I am passionate about the role of campaigning in bringing about a fairer world.

I tried to recover my position. “Well, it is sad that I have to leave you, but mummy gets to go to work in order to help people who are hungry…”  I realised I was addressing quite a big issue that I hadn’t really addressed with my just-two year old before.  And I was being quite colonial in my description.

Ramona was  chewing a chocolate rice crispie cake, getting it all in the bed (gah, don’t judge me, it was her birthday party yesterday and Tim gave her some leftovers for breakfast. Judge him.) I went on, “You see, some people don’t have rice crispie cakes. And mummy, er, tries to make sure everyone can have a rice crispie cake….”

Ramona is too young, but I do want this to be part of our life’s rhetoric. That life sometimes isn’t fair for everyone, but that we can all play a part in making it better.

We can do it through our jobs, by nurturing our children’s empathy and efficacy, we can do it through our hobbies and spare time.

Some of my favourite people, the Craftivist Collective, have launched #Imapiece – crafting jigsaw bits with messages on in collaboration with Save the Children-  to challenge the horrendous truth that every single hour children are dying from hunger. Their central message is that we are all a part of the big picture, we can all join a movement, to craft a more beautiful future together.

I stitched my first piece of jigsaw in a spare hour last weekend… I went for “Prepare a feast!” – I was feeling hopeful, visionary, and imagined a massive banquet table, bending under the weight of nutritious food, enough for every single belly to be full.

 

I would love Ramona to understand this. For my hope, rather than any festering cynicism, to seep into her life and the choices she makes and the very way she see the world. I would like to give her Spectacles of Hope  and Action .

This morning she responded to my sleepy, confused explanation with a slobbery, chocolaty kiss. It is clearly too early in her life for this to all make sense to her. And it was certainly too early in the morning for me give it a bash sensibly, without the rubbish use of rice crispie cake analogies!

I need to really work on this… any tips, anyone?

PS Why not use your own crafty skills to dabble in the #imapiece movement? Read all about it here. 

*This is a bit of an in joke with myself, because when I was a young youth worker and writing alot about Fair Trade in youth publications, I got my first bit of hate mail, an aggressive letter from an ancient capitalist, suggesting I was imploring today’s generation to be “work shy communists”.  Mwhaha. That letter only steeled me in this fight against greed 🙂

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Eight approaches for happier sleep

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Yesterday morning Ramona woke up at 4:30, full of beans. She planted some kisses on our faces, did a morning fart, followed by a belly full of giggles, and began climbing all over the bed. “Awake! Me! Pojo??” Pojo is her word for porridge, she was ready for breakfast and up for the day.

Grumpy is not the word. I was mad all day. Mentally flipping the bird at every stupid email I received, I stomped around the office, grizzled under my breath my whole cycle home. I was reminded what it is like to be deeply unhappy with a child’s sleep patterns.

I spent many of Ramona’s first months feeling this way. She’d take forever to go to sleep at the sensible time of 7 pm and then wake at the crack of dawn. I disliked spending an hour doing a night time routine and getting her to sleep, bobbing up and down the stairs to her throughout the evening, and then peering out of the bed covers at the clock and seeing 6 am shining back at me just a few hours after I rolled under them.

It was only when Ramona was a year old that I realised I wanted to take a more relaxed, less structured approach to her sleep, and since then we have all been much happier. Of course, we still have the odd terrible night, an evening with a wired tot who won’t sleep, or a crack of dawn morning. But on the whole my mind is free of sleep anguish, and that deserves a celebratory doughnut.

I’d say adopting eight different approaches helped me feel much happier about our sleep situation.

  • I got the “sensible bedtime” idea out of my head. The most sensible bedtime for a child is when they are tired. Sometimes, due to a late start or long nap this is ten pm. Mostly for us it is somewhere between 8:30 and 9:30. It took me a while to get this, even 8:30 pm seemed outrageous to me, so I’d try and try and try to get Ramona in bed at The World Will Approve O Clock. Once I let go of this, our evenings got a whole load more relaxed.
  • I decided that beds were overrated. For a year, Ramona took her naps on me in the sling or on the sofa, but always began her night time sleep in bed. Once I realised she was often much happier falling to sleep at night time on the sofa I began to see the benefits. We’ll cuddle up amongst the cushions, then after she has drifted off, while my husband and I read or chat, we can put a film on, or continue the get-together with our friends. Because she is right with us she’ll rarely stir much and then I just take her to bed when we go.
  • We abandoned the routine. Sometimes the bath, songs, story schedule worked. Mostly though, Ramona hated the idea of going upstairs and leaving behind her crate of toys, the lovely people in the lounge and a kitchen of food. She’d be upset about being carted off somewhere else, or we’d end up doing story after story until she was ready to snuggle down. Not making such a palava of bedtime made the transition to sleep so much more natural
  • I watch her cues and set the scene. Sometimes Ramona will ask for “bed”, sometimes she’ll just ask for “mummy milk” (as opposed to “Daddy milk” which is what she she calls dairy! Mahaha…) or sometimes she may yawn, get a bit angsty. At this stage I will put the lamp on, quieten down the house and settle on the sofa with her. This transition is much easier for her mind to cope with!

  • I accepted that kids all have different sleep needs, and they are fairly good at meeting that need if we allow them. Ramona can rarely sleep more than 11 hours at night. If she goes to bed at 7 then that is a 6 am wake up call. ER, NO THANKS! Getting up at 8am makes us all happier but that does mean I have to accept that traditional bedtimes don’t suit us! She still naps for an hour, an hour and a half. But if she has a few short naps then she might go for a number 14 hour night sleep!! I just trust her in all of this and shrug off the concept of a 12 hour night.
  • I accepted our new normal. Once I got used to the idea that Ramona would continue to stir at night, and would continue to need me, my mind calmed down and my new state of contentment really helped! Instead of waking up and thinking “She woke 4 times and she is nearly two!!!” And being appalled at my poor parenting, I now simply recognise that she just has superior survival skills….because obviously, we are built to stir all night so we can respond to danger and stoke the cave fire! Also, perversely, the few times she has slept all night I’ve had a rubbish sleep due to a lack of lovely nursing hormones. Wrong, that is, I tell you!
  • I rejected the “creating good sleep habits” rhetoric. Mainstream parenting advice claims routines, sleeping through, self-soothing and sleeping in a separate space sets our children up for a lifetime of excellent sleep. Erm. There is an MAJOR flaw in this in that we have been repeating this record for decades and we are some of the worst sleepers in the world!!! Nearly 40% of us suffer from insomnia. Mainstream advice is clearly doing something wrong.
  • I embraced a “live intuitively” philosophy. I try as much as possible to let Ramona be self-directed, to eat when hungry, cuddle when she needs it, jump on the bed if she fancies it, and sleep when she is tired. I hope all of this stuff will allow her own gut to be the loudest voice when it comes to making important decisions, that she will be less reliant on the sways of peers and external evaluation. Learning to respond to her body and its need will surely give her a confidence and a wholeness that will give her a much needed resilience. Knowing that I may be suffering a little less undisturbed sleep than others for the big picture, the future well being of my daughter, makes it a tiny, insignificant suffering!

These ways aren’t for everyone, I know.  If you are content with the fixed way you do thing, please, don’t change a dot!!! But maybe some of you are like us, and do want to take a more abandoned approach to sleep and parenting, and I hope our story will encourage you to do that. For me, stumbling across other families that did this gave me the freedom I needed to parent this way boldly, and not secretly! I liked these two pages, especially…

This collection of quotes from homeschool families who just roll with it, sleepwise. 

Letting kids find their own sleep patterns

Finding a bit of freedom around this whole sleep situation has been a part of my attachment parenting journey. For me attachment parenting is all about choosing connection, over control.  I am down with boundaries- i.e, I wouldn’t give Ramona sweets before bedish time, or have a massively exciting game of tickles just as she began to yawn, but integral to my parenting is a relinquishment of my need for high control. Allowing Ramona a certain amount of autonomy is important to me, and these approaches to sleep extend that philosophy to her bedtime.

So… *asks timidly, trying to be brave* … what do you reckon?!

Editing my daughter’s life chances (er, or her Fairy Tales at least)

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I joked once about how we have changed the words to “This Little Piggy went to market” – creating a more liberal, less Capitalist version. We did that with vegetarian tongue firmly in hippy cheek but as Ramona grows older I find myself doing it with quite a few things and intentionally too. I’ll sometimes change the gender of the leading boy characters in books, and will improvise the fate of the girl in the fairy tale (“She went on to be the President of the Free World…”)

I am fairly committed to giving Ramona a sense that she can do or be anything, be it a poet, a plumber or a Prime Minister. I feel as if there could be a way of providing a foundation of opportunity for her, even though the stats are stacked against her.

Little minds start whirring young, eh? Interpreting the world, and people, and their roles.  The next door neighbour toddler lads throwing our ball back over in disgust because it dared to have poor pink Peppa Pig on it. The boys in the playground telling Ramona she can’t kick, as she is a girl.

As if those interactions aren’t shaping her enough, I then snuggle in bed and read her yet another book with some naff sacrificial role for the lady, while the men fight for justice, but because I am a bit sleepy I can’t be bothered to ad-lib it. Tonight it was a story about a daughter being sent to marry an evil giant and she didn’t want to go.  “No Go” Ramona kept repeating, jabbing her finger at the girl, as if she could see how unfair it was. Whoah. She is totally getting this storyline. “She went because she was brave!” I began adlibbing again.

And then when she drifted off I got the paper, pens and glue out and fixed the tale right up.

Some pages needed the odd word, and others whole paragraphs. The patriarchy won’t catch me snoozing again!

I know, I know. It’s only minor. But isn’t life mostly just a collection of small stuff, layered on top of each other, gently kneading who we are and what we think and what we do? Ramona’s not going to think women are just the weak bystanders, guileless love interests, not on my watch. Not on your nelly.

How do you make sure your kids grow up with a strong sense of gender equality and justice?

PS Some cool Tweet mates have created an awesome reading list- so if you are out to buy a feminist friendly story check here first!

Validate bad times, c’mon!

(sung to the tune of Kool and the Gang’s Celebration, obviously. You totally got that, eh.)

On one of our trips away this summer we were rushing to get our train back. I jumped on before Ramona and Tim, determined to get us a table seat. We had so much luggage – all our camping gear- and there were three of us so I was feeling pretty deserving. As I entered the carriage I saw an empty one and honed in on it – unfortunately a businessman had spotted it too- entering from the other door. He pipped me to the post by about 0.7 seconds and with a triumphant flourish sat his un-heavy-laden solo self down. Fortunately there was another! It wasn’t over! I shuttled forward to the next table- and exactly the same thing happened again, this time with a women, arms full of shopping bags.  There was no eye contact, just that same  flourish.

OOF! I WAS MAD!

I carried on up the train in, yeah, what was  bit of a rage, and came upon Tim and Ramona who had found a perfectly fine seating arrangement with bags of room. “You will not BELIEVE what just happened!” And I relayed the story, indignantly… “and the way they sat down… with such a triumphant flourish!!!” I was genuinely feeling a bit bruised by it.

Tim, kindly and very rationally,  responded to my woeful tale with “Never mind. These seats are really perfect.”

I was tired. And feeling a bit harassed. And grumpy and bruised. I, er, didn’t appreciate his comment.

I huffed and puffed and sunk into myself. I might have even whispered something a bit mean.

You see, what I wanted was someone to understand my -albeit irrationally upset- feelings. I wanted Tim to agree “What?! That is WELL out of order! No wonder you feel cross!”

And as our train jolted forward it hit me – we deal with toddlers in this way all the time.

Carboot puppy -The best 20p Ramona ever spent

At least once a day I’ll hear a variation of the following -and yep, sometimes out of my own mouth;

“Oh, don’t be silly, we’ve been at the park for hours, it’s time to go home”

“You just can’t scatter cereal all over the floor, that’s the way it is.”

“C’mon, that’s not for you to play with – look! Have a ball instead.”

“Don’t cry about it-  we can do it again later”

We discount our children’s feelings, sometimes outright by saying it is ridiculous, and sometimes more subtly and in a kinder way,  by trying to explain why they don’t need to worry about it.

I have been trying to validate Ramona’s feelings since she was really small – but only in this moment of immaturity on the train did I feel like I was trapped in a toddler’s body – having my feelings kindly, but subtly, invalidated. (By the way. I honestly think I was being unreasonable on the train. I am an adult, with all the right wiring – I hope– and a –fairly– developed brain and my husband has a really good balance in understanding my feelings but also calling me out when I am being a bit out of order myself!)

Another one of our trips was to a farm with a friend and her two toddlers. She parented so gently and playfully, always validating her children’s huge feelings, even when they seemed unreasonable. It was such a delight to see her sitting on the floor next to her wailing child and, in a undramatic and calm way, letting her know that she understands how hard it is.

“I can see that has made you really upset. ”

“It  is really frustrating when you can’t play with the things you want to, isn’t it?”

“You feel as if you should have longer in the haybales, don’t you?”

“It makes you upset when you can’t help me make dinner. Perhaps you could help me make the pudding?”

It isn’t rocket science, but it doesn’t come naturally either. I think it takes a lot of practice to make empathy and validation the first response, particularly when it is over something so blatantly trivial. I am constantly trying to understand that for Ramona the sense of the feeling is often huge, even if the cause of the feeling seems tiny and minor to me.

I think validating our toddler’s feelings often does avert full blown tantrums, and can often save time in the long run. But mostly I think I want to nurture a relationship based on understanding, to take every opportunity to connect with my toddler.  I want Ramona to get that there is a place for her big feelings, and it is right to sometimes feel sad and cross and frustrated. She doesn’t have to bury these feelings, to distract herself by the next thing.

So, isn’t it great when we can learn something from a particularly low ebb in our adult emotional maturity?  Really great. I just probably shouldn’t have slipped a special little revenge parcel in their bags to discover later. (JOKES)

*Sings*

Let’s all validate and have a good time!

PS- If you are interested in this I do recommend reading some of Naomi Aldort’s stuff. I am currently battling through her book, Raising our children, Raising ourselves-  but her articles are a million times easier to read!

Attachment Daddy: Intuitive parenting

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My husband is a lovely writer, and a fabulous daddy, and has been on quite a journey with the attachment fatherhood stuff. I thought it would be WICKED to get his perspective on some of it all for this blogdiggidy. He agreed! What a LEDGE. So here he is, an intro post, on parenting by instinct.

Ramona is coming up 2 years old now.  I can’t actually believe how fast those years have gone.  It seems like only yesterday that I was looking in awe and wonder at Lucy’s growing tummy, trying to get my mind around the fact that a little life is growing in there.  I remember the moments when Ramona’s head crowned, followed by her tiny little body into the arms of the midwife.   While I was busy wide eyed exclaiming that we have a little girl, Lucy’s hands were already reaching back through her legs instinctively for this little life that was now newly apart from her.  “Give her to me.”  A mother and her daughter after a very long labour, that time completely forgotten melting into one another.

So the journey for me began.  My stumbling instinct, and Lucy’s primeval mothering one, together parenting Ramona Lily.
Things are always the hardest when you haven’t done them before, especially when popular culture seems to ever willingly chide your methodology.  My feelings swing from experiencing the beauty of waking with the snuggling cuddles and kisses of my precious child to the jealous desire to have my Lucy to myself, apart from this ever present little limpet.  From feeling Ramona snuggled safely and cosily around me in a sling, to lazily wanting her somewhere else so I can enjoy the cool breeze.  From wanting her to learn that I won’t always be there, to wanting her to know completely that I will.  Unconditionally, without question or hesitation.
My instincts seem buried much further beneath the expected norms of society and upbringing than Lucy’s.  There’s always a book that I should be reading, a documentary or article that I need to check out.  Sometimes I feel like I’m being coached in this strange new art, yet I don’t want that all the time.  Lucy and I talk often about parenting.  I think I am relatively open minded and good at listening as well as talking.
I was talking to a friend yesterday about choosing a home birth (or rather attempting to).  All my hesitations that I previously had had seem now totally ridiculous to me.  Worries no longer there with the benefit of hindsight.  Without a second thought we’d do it all again, with very little, if any, changes.  The doubts I have shelved, by all accounts lost, in the files of time.  Perhaps I’ll feel like that about all our parenting decisions too one day.  Why did I ever doubt?  Why did I ever question?
Ramona is by far one of the loveliest people that I have ever met.  She is (mostly) gentle, loving, engaged and curious, independent and graceful.  She climbs like a monkey, she runs with a bouncing carefreeness that I adore.  Her cuddles are like none others that I have ever experienced.  I am proud and happy of our growing girl.
Oh, nice one Tim. He is going to cover some of the practices of attachment soon. Cosleeping, extended breastfeeding and babywearing. Should be some nice honest stuff to come, I reckon. THANKS TIMPOP! (This is the sweet nothing 6 years of marriage has seen me ending up calling him- and also everyone I love. It is short for Pop-on-off. Sometimes it sounds like I am calling him Polpot so I shouldn’t really do it in public. But I do. An antique dealer actually once said to me: You can’t call him that! HARUMPH.) 

On ivy and being a little bit idle

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I did this painting for Camberwell Arts Week last year. It is an old plank of wood I found in the street, I placed ancient scraps of wallpaper and collaged sparrows against its gnarly scraped up paint work. I hammered in rusty nails to be branches, curling some words of Bob Marley alongside them and threw in a Bible verse in scrabble letters (obvs). We hung it half-heartedly it in the garden inbetween our bird feeders and slowly over the last couple of months it has been over run with our ivy. And it looks as if it was always meant to be this way.

Sometimes it is good to let things flow, uninterrupted, unmanipulated.

I have spent much of my life getting stuck in, negotiating, choosing, chasing. Grabbing life by the horns is a fun way to live (but beating up a bull takes a lot of energy.) I would insist and strive and work things out to be the very way I thought they should be.

It was only when I got married to Tim I began taking day time naps (C’mon people. Not afternoon delight styles, just snoozing.) I had never slept in the day before because I always felt I was missing out on life. Marrying Tim gave me a quiet happiness that meant I could rest a bit if I felt like it, thanks very much.

Since being mother to Ramona my contentedness has bloomed even more. I remember when she was about 5 months old waiting for a train that never came and having to change all my plans, and instead of being wall-climbing ragey, exhausting myself trying to hitch/bus/ skate to the destination I had planned on being at, I just settled for something else and felt wonderful. It was a significant moment, realising that I now hold onto my plans and strivings with such a looser grip.

I still have a long way to go in this practice of idleness. To yodle “Que, sera, sera” a bit more. To allow things to take their natural course without interrupting. (Ahem, ah, excuse me? Ivy? Where do you think your growing, eh?) To just see. And to just be.

I have gotten all the way to the end of this post without even the theme of the painting being in my mind, and now I have remembered, and it is ridiculously serendipitous.  If you look closely at my scrawls on the painting they say “Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God” or Bob’s take on it, “Don’t worry about a thing. Cos every little thing is gonna be alright.” 


PS  Of course, I want to stay ambitious for a better world, want to grab at hope and fight for fairness. There are some things in life where idle will not do, don’t you reckon?

Gender Schmender – how the world denies our daughters

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When I was a little girl, five or so, I had a desperate desire to be called Eric. You can’t be Eric, the world said, with incredulity! Fine! I replied! I would be Girl Eric! (No one mentioned there was such a name as Erica.) And for quite some time I corrected people if they dare say Lucy; “It’s Girl Eric, actually.”

And then there is my little one. Ramona really does love a plane. When we are out and about if she sees one fly past it really gives her fits of giggles, she’ll point and squeal and fall about in stitches. What is going through her little mind? Is it total glee in simply spotting something so random in the sky? Does she think it’s kind of like a duck? (She is obsessed with ducks.)  Is she taking joy in the scientific conundrum of human defeating gravity? Ramona also passes many a happy minute chugging her little trains along, crashing her cars together, exploring the carpet with her little tractors.

That’s how we roll, Ramona and I. PAH! Boy things?! Boy names?! Whatever!  We don’t care about your gender constructs!

Of course, I could use these as an ideal example of how girls just simply aren’t hardwired to do and be the things that we always associate with girls. See! Look at Ramona! She loves planes and trains and automobiles as much as any little lad! 

But I’m not going to, as it is this kind of personal anecdote, albeit from the opposite angle, that perpetuates myths around the differences between boys and girls

. I have been slowly working my way through  the epic book, Pink Brain, Blue Brain by Lise Eliot. To put it simply boys and girls are born with slight differences, but it is very much how we treat them that determines their choices and “gendered” personalities eventually – often by the age of two. Robust research like this should be enough for us! But it isn’t. It is as if we want there to be a great divide between our boys and girls.

The truth is this divide isn’t actually there originally  – but the chasm between their future prospects IS.

It is curious having a little 17 month female who acts more “male” then her male chums. Ramona is the toughie- leading the climbing expeditions, throwing herself fearlessly down slides while they look on, trembling. She is so hardcore she has even BROKEN HER LEG! HA!  I am working hard to make sure that her gender doesn’t define her at any point- trying to show an equal interest in her micro machine play as her cabbage patch kid tea parties.

It is particuarly curious knowing that were she to wake up tomorrow age 20,  she would not only be defined by her gender but she would be absolutely limited by it.

A report released last week showed exactly how stark the pay inequality is between men and women in London, and just yesterday as I flicked through Stylist on the tube (Oh! The LUXURY of browsing a mag whilst on public transport as opposed to convincing a toddler not to suck every surface/pick chewing gum off the seat/ run out of the doors!!) I came upon some rubbish info about the English female Footy team – despite their MASSIVE success, they are NINTH in the world (male team is 7th) yet get around 1% of the pay of their male counterparts and occupy only 5% of the media coverage.

Playing football proffesionally wouldn’t really be an option for Ramona, tomorrow. (For lot’s of other reasons too, of course, namely that her Kiwi dad would go nuts.)

We have had quite a few tradesmen in lately, doing jobs on the house, and I say men because they are ALL men. I am sure something so subtle as this provides limitations on our daughter’s futures too. And just to cement it, as if the message isn’t coming in loud and clear, old Lego go and release a new package for girls where they can chose from such  wonderful hobbies as baking and visiting beauty parlours – and all featuring many shades of pink. (The especially sad thing is how far they have retreated from their excellent gender neutral stance of the Eighties.)

Gosh, it all gets me pretty ragey actually. To look at my little daughter and know that her chances of realising any career ambition, or getting access to more physical lines of work,  are slimmer than her little male counterparts.

To look at myself, and know I missed out on simply being Eric.

What can I do?

I can email Lego about their ridiculous new line.

I can try and employ more female tradespeople.

I can reflect on my own language and play with Ramona – encouraging those areas that are naturally not quite  as strong in her female brain.

I can take more direct action, like that time I did vandalism.

Do I reject all  pink/ princesses/ and beauty?

How do you do it? Do you take some hardline approaches because the default is to exacerbate the differences? Part of me wonders if this is what needs to happen. I would love to hear from you.